Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Image of the Month

October 2020

  • Title: Isabella of France meets her husband, Richard II, king of England
  • Creator: Master of the London Wavrin
  • Description:

    In this illustration, King Richard II of England and King Charles VI of France meet at Ardres near Calais. Their purpose: the ceremonial handing over of Charles’s daughter Isabella of France, then only six, to her new husband, Richard, a widower at the age of 29. The occasion is marked with a full display of royal pageantry. Grand pavilions and tents with their respective sigils surround the two kings, and both are extravagantly garbed with crowns atop their heads. They stand opposite each other, Richard wearing a crimson gown while Charles is distinguished by the royal fleur-de-lis on a blue field. Between them is Isabella. Her father sternly gestures her forward, but she seems to shy away as Richard bends down towards her, suggesting she is uncomfortable with her new role.

    The source of this image is a late 15th century manuscript copy of Jean Froissart’s Chroniques, a vernacular history of the Hundred Years War. Froissart’s work was one of the most popular of the late Middle Ages, with over 150 volumes surviving. Composed in the late 14th century, the Chroniques covers only the first part of the war, and is famous for its emphasis on pageantry and its idealization of chivalry. By the second half of the 15th century, the Chroniques enjoyed a revived popularity in the Burgundian Netherlands, and this particular copy, consisting of five volumes ( D ii-vi ), was produced in Bruges for Thomas Thwaytes, Chancellor of the Exchequer under King Edward IV.

    The meeting of Richard and Isabella which the manuscript depicts was the culmination of a long negotiating process between France and England in the late 14th century. Having been at war for decades, both countries were financially depleted and desired peace. However, conflict over the status of Aquitaine, ruled by the English King yet technically under the suzerainty of the King of France, prevented a conclusive agreement. No formal settlement was reached, but a 28-year truce was confirmed. As part of this agreement, Richard was to marry Charles’s daughter, Isabella, who came with a dowry of 800,000 francs. The disposition of this considerable sum was subject to a number of clauses such as what would happen if Richard should die before Isabella reached the age of 12, girls’ official age for consummation according to canon law. During the negotiations, Philippe de Mézières wrote, on behalf of Charles, urging Richard to see Isabella’s young age as an advantage, arguing that it was easier to train horses, camels and elephants when very young. Moreover, the princess could be raised in England so that Richard could mould her and she "will always feel in her heart filial obedience and reverence as to a father towards her lord and husband..."

    The betrothal of children, especially aristocratic children, was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Officially the Church placed a number of limitations on the practice including that children could only be betrothed once they reached the age of 7 and only married at the age of 12, if a girl, and 14, if a boy. In practice however, these regulations were rarely enforced, and nobles faced few restrictions when it came to marrying off their children for economic or political gain. Papal dispensations could trump limitations on marriages of close kin by blood (consanguinity) or sexual contact (affinity). Furthermore, while the Church had prohibitions against non-consensual marriages, children, especially girls, were often forced into marriage at a young age. This was especially true in cases where children were wards of individuals who were outside the family but still had control of them. In these cases, children could be placed in betrothals advantageous to their guardian with little to no recourse.

    Despite the practice of child betrothals, however, some openly voiced opposition to the potential dangers of placing children in sexual relationships. Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, was married at the age of 12 and was immediately impregnated by Edmund Tudor in order to affirm her husband’s life interest in her estates. She had a very difficult childbirth and never conceived another child despite her three marriages. As a family matriarch, she opposed a potential husband for a grand-daughter on the grounds that he would not wait to consummate the marriage. This, along with works like Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale which ridiculed child/older adult marriages, suggests that, while child betrothals did take place, sexual relationships between a young girl and an older man were not accepted as entirely normal.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Ages at Consent Betrothal Child Marriages Diplomacy Isabella of France, Wife of Richard II, King of England Marriage Queens Richard II, King of England Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca 1475-1499
  • Related Work: Robert de Namur and Jean de Froissart (writing in the lower left corner), British Library, Royal 14 D II, fol. 8. Frontispiece from vol. 1 of Froissart's Chroniques.
    Other representations of Isabella and Richard II
    Isabella meeting Richard, British Library, Harley 4380, fol. 89, Froissart, Chroniques, Vol. IV, part 2, ca. 1470-1472.
    Isabella meeting Richard, British Library, Royal 18 E II, fol. 293v, Froissart, Chroniques, probably volume 4 of a set, before 1484.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Royal 14 D VI, fol. 268v
  • Original Location: Southern Netherlands
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paint; Gold;
  • Donor: Layman; Thomas Thwaytes (d.1503), chancellor of the Exchequer, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under Edward IV, member of the royal council in 1482, and treasurer of Calais until 1490.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 43/30.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Delogu, Daisy. “Public Displays of Affection: Love and Kinship in Philippe de Mézières's Epistre au roi Richart.” New Medieval Literatures, 8. Edited by Rita Copeland, David Lawton and Wendy Scase. Brepols, 2006. Pages 99-123;
    Jones, Michael K. and Malcolm G. Underwood. The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge University Press, 1992;
    Mézières, Philippe de. Letter to King Richard II: A Plea Made in 1395 for Peace between England and France . Translated by G. W. Coopland. Liverpool University Press, 1975;
    Parker, Heather. "’At thair perfect age’: Elite Child Betrothal and Parental Control, 1430-1560.” Children and Youth in Premodern Scotland. Edited by Janay Nugent and Elizabeth Ewan. Boydell Press, 2015. Pages 173-186;
    Philips, Kim M. Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, C.1270-c.1540. Manchester University Press, 2003.

The Feminae database presents images of medieval art with descriptions, data, and subject indexing. Each thumbnail picture has a link to a higher quality image often with a zoom view and added content from a museum. Images included represent women and gender 450 to 1500 C.E. in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Beginning in June 2012 we have highlighted each month a newly added image that is rich in documentary evidence or iconographic significance.

As images build up in the database, users can browse for aggregated evidence. The Donor field groups people together in the categories layman/men, laywoman/women, female religious and male religious. The Current Location field allows users to see artwork that is all housed in the same museum. Image records are integrated with all the other Feminae content, so that a search on Mary Magdalen will include results for essays, journal articles, translations, book reviews, and images (which come at the end of the list which is sorted by date). Feminae Research Assistants

Feminae Research Assistants:

Caroline Ford is the Feminae intern during the 2020-21 academic year. She is majoring in English at Haverford College with a minor in psychology.

Joe Ding worked on Feminae during the summer of 2020. She is majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy at Haverford College.

Rebecca Chen was the Feminae intern during the summer of 2020. She is an English major at Haverford College with interests in pursuing medicine.

Jonathan Sudo worked on Feminae in summer 2019. He is majoring in History and East Asian Studies at Haverford College.

Drew Forte began working on images in Spring 2018. He has a particular interest in the occult and magic as represented in medieval art.

Jessica Urban researched and wrote about images from fall 2016 through fall 2017. She concentrated on archaeology and material culture. She majored in Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College.

Bill Ristow is working on manuscript images during the 2015-16 academic year. He is majoring in history and writing his senior thesis on medieval kingship with reference to Wace's Roman de Rou and Henry II.

Rachel Davies worked on the brass rubbings during the 2013 summer session for the exhibit Lasting Impressions. During 2015-16 she is concentrating on entries concerning Spanish art.

Leigh Peterson worked on images during the Fall 2012 through Spring 2015 academic years. She was an undergraduate student who majored in art history at Bryn Mawr College. She was an intern at the Cloisters Museum during summer 2013.

Shannon Steiner added images during the summer and fall of 2013. Shannon is a doctoral student in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. She holds a B.A. from Temple University (2009) and M.A.s from The University of Texas at Austin (2011) and Bryn Mawr College (2013). Her research focuses on the visual culture of saints' cults and the role of art in forming community and gender identities in Byzantium.

Sarah Celentano worked on the initial 300 image records. She is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the visual culture of female monastic communities with a specialization in twelfth-century German-speaking areas. Her dissertation, "Embodied Reading as Political Action in the Hortus deliciarum," will explore the textual and visual responses in the twelfth-century Hortus deliciarum to papal schism and imperial challenges to Church authority. Additional areas of examination will be the use of medieval mnemonic techniques, and conduits of artistic exchange between northern and southern Europe.